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This review aims to interpret the current literature on the role of genetic and epigenetic factors in susceptibility to neonatal infection, a leading cause of early life mortality and morbidity. Epidemiological data indicate that the differential susceptibility to infection is partly heritable. To date there have been relatively few studies on genetic determinants of susceptibility to neonatal infection and many of these have methodological shortcomings. Most studies predominantly focus on the innate immune system. There is growing interest in the potential role of epigenetic mechanisms in disease susceptibility and data are emerging on the role of epigenetics in the maturation of the immune system in early life. Infection is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality, especially in preterm infants, but it remains unclear why neonates are so susceptible or what mediates differential risk. Genetic and epigenetic epidemiologic studies may assist in the identification of critical protective and pathogenic pathways. Despite the current relative lack of robust data, such studies may facilitate the development of interventions that ultimately decrease the significant morbidity and mortality of this highly vulnerable population.


Tobias Strunk, Sarra E Jamieson, David Burgner. Genetic and epigenetic susceptibility to early life infection. Current opinion in infectious diseases. 2013 Jun;26(3):241-7

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PMID: 23449138

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